Why is Avocado in Sushi?


Many Americans might have gotten used to the idea that avocado is used as an ingredient in sushi, but this was not always the case, nor is it still in Japan.

Why is avocado used in sushi? At first, this melty, green fruit was used as a substitute for the fatty part of tuna called toro about forty years ago. Since then, however, it has spread in popularity in the US to the point where people don’t even realize that it isn’t actually a traditional sushi ingredient. In Japan, avocado sushi is rarer.

For those who might go to Japan thinking that they will be able to easily find this ingredient in the sushi being served, it is unfortunately not that easy, especially among more traditional restaurants.

American Sushi VS Japanese Sushi, the Difference

It is a well-known fact among the most dedicated sushi enthusiasts that there is a vast difference between the sushi found in the US and the sushi found in Japan. Aside from the taste, the way of eating, and how the dish is approached, this traditional food item has quite the divide between the two nations.

Understanding why the presence of avocado in American sushi is such a big deal requires some further understanding of the disparities between these two thoughts on the dish. To start with, it has to do with the following:

·         Tradition

·         Cultural significance




·         Food perception

·         Commitment to quality

It isn’t to say that the American food industry doesn’t value tradition, but when compared to something as rigid as that of Japanese cuisine, there are certainly plenty of differences. To highlight these distinctions, take a look at the table below:

 American SushiJapanese Sushi
IngredientsAmerican sushi is treated with more versatility and flexibility in terms of ingredients.Japanese sushi is versatile but is restrictive in the range of the ingredients already used for it.
AppearanceMore experimentations are acceptable such as putting the rice on the outer layer of the role.Traditional sushi only comes in two forms: maki and nigiri.
ConsumptionFewer restrictions on utensils and mannerisms, especially in the use of sauces and condiments.Hands or chopsticks only, and dipping in soy sauce is done lightly.
TreatmentTreated as a luxury item for the elites.Treated as a traditional food item with more reverence. Accessible to anyone.

As is often the case with everything related to Americans, even the in which sushi is treated is quite laid back. There are far fewer restrictions and nothing is more evident of this fact than the presence of avocado on the menu.

In Japan, you would be hard-pressed to find this ingredient in just any old sushi bar. Although it is gaining popularity in some places, this doesn’t mean that it is accepted by the diners in the country. The Japanese have certainly become more accepting of late, but they can still be quite touchy about their traditional dishes.

Tradition – Touching on the tradition for a bit, while ramen is considered a freeform dish in Japan where you can do pretty much whatever you want with it, sushi is different. It almost has this veneer of untouchability to it, wherein traditional chefs spend decades mastering their craft. As a result, any changes to it are thought of more seriously than in the US.




Unlikely in America where food is almost seen as a way to express creativity in any form, food in Japan is practically tied to their identity. Sushi, in particular, is considered sacred in some cases because of how it represents much of who they are. The fresh ingredients, the simple way of consuming that yields complex flavors, and of course, soy sauce.

It is no exaggeration to say that many Japanese looks at sushi with pride. It is a part of their tradition, of who they are. This is not how American sushi is seen, at all.

Cultural Significance – Japanese culture is deep and substantial, with so many complex meanings and nuances that it would take years to actually understand all of them. However, one thing that can certainly be said about the Japanese is how they place reverence on many things, particularly food.




The simple phrase “Itadakimasu” is not just a catchy way to begin eating. It is literally a means of expressing humility and gratitude towards the presence of the food that they are about to partake. As such, you can easily imagine how much value they place in a dish as intrinsically tied to their national identity as sushi is.

Food Perception – With regards to how food is perceived in the US and Japan, the difference could not be starker. In the eastern country, food is reversed and respected. Not only the chefs but the people themselves understand the time, effort, and love that went into everything that they are eating. As a result, wastage and pointless actions are considered the highest of offenses.

In the case of sushi, it is often thought that the combinations that have existed since it was first invented are already at their peak stages. This is why, although there are those in Japan who are willing to give new trends a try, the majority of diners still prefer the more authentic types of sushi.

Commitment to Quality – Finally, we have the matter of commitment of quality, which is where avocado really comes into play. You see, there are few other food items in the world that are as tricky to work with as this green time bomb. If you open it too soon, it will be too tough. Open it too late, and it turns into mush.

The perfect time to use it falls under a window so narrow that it takes real mastery to time it right. This is then where the issue becomes problematic. In the case of sushi, everything must go right each and every time. This is not something that can easily be done when working with avocado.

When you are working with something that volatile, there is a much higher chance of messing up when preparing the food. Japanese sushi chefs are just not keen on taking such risks, even if the one who started the trend was Japanese. Hence the differences in how sushi is approached.




Ingredients

To say that the Japanese are not adaptable with regards to the ingredients they use is not exactly accurate. After all, it was a Japanese chef who was living in California 40 years ago who first introduced avocado as an ingredient. It was as a substitute to a fish part that he didn’t have easy access to, of course, but the fact remains that they can be dynamic.

With that said, the Japanese do tend to approach these matters more seriously, whereas Americans are more whimsical when it comes to making food. As a result, avocado has not caught on in Japan despite its popularity in the west.

The same goes for sushi-like uramaki, which is basically maki turned inside out. As a result, the rice is on the outside instead of the nori. While it would not be entirely right to say that it can’t be found in Japanese sushi restaurants, it is undeniably more popular in the west than in Japan.

The fact of the matter is that the Japanese like to stick to what is practical and uramaki can be messier to deal with than regular maki. When picking it up with chopsticks, for example, it falls apart much easier and it isn’t as of maki is all that stable, to begin with.

Appearance

Just as the case with the ingredients, American sushi can be pretty much served in any form depending on the settings. Of course, when you are eating at a high-class Japanese restaurant, the shapes, colors, and serving methods are going to adhere to more traditional ways. Beyond that, however, you can expect things to get a little crazy.




It isn’t strange at all for sushi to be combined with other types of food like burger, hotdog, and even tacos when you get the dishes from food trucks, kiosks, and the like. Americans love being inventive when it comes to food and new trends are always popping up to get foodie cylinders fired up.

On the other hand, Japanese sushi chefs tend to stick to more traditional tropes. While there can be updates with regards to preparation and procuring ingredients, the forms that sushi is often served can be limited. In many of the most traditional establishments, sushi only ever comes in the form of nigiri or maki in their various incarnations.

The variety then comes in the form of the ingredients used with regards to the fillings and the toppings. Thinking about sushi in the way that most other types of dishes are served, this isn’t exactly strange. Eating steak, soup, or pasta can often follow the same rules and restrictions.

Consumption

With regard to consuming sushi, there are going to be some stark differences between Japan and the US that are only to be expected. For example, in the US, it is perfectly acceptable to eat sushi with a fork. In Japan, this practice is less acceptable.

There is also the matter of how you use condiments that accompany your sushi. In the case of soy sauce, many Americans tend to go overboard when dipping each piece in. There have even been cases where the sauce was actually drizzled on top of the sushi. This is highly unacceptable in Japan.

Finally, in the US, it’s fine for there to be leftovers. In Japan, this is just not tolerated. At the very least, the food should be taken home if it is cooked. When it is fresh, everything must be consumed.

Treatment

Finally, there is the matter of how sushi is treated in Japan versus the US. For Americans, sushi can be considered a luxury food item that is only accessible in its best form to affluent diners. While there are expensive sushi restaurants in Japan, there are also the normal sushi bars where the dish is considerably more accessible.

At such establishments, the quality of the dish is still maintained. The only real difference is in the ingredients used, with the pricier restaurants offering the most expensive components.

Why Avocado Was First Used in Sushi

Sushi was invented back in the late 1800s, so it was around for more than a century when it first came to the US. However, it was only 40 years ago that the avocado trend was introduced and this was due to the shortage of a particular ingredient called toro.

For those who don’t know, this is basically a particularly fatty part of tuna that, when consumed, practically melts in your mouth. It is a favored ingredient due to the texture and flavor that it can provide, which produces an incredible mouthfeel.

At this point, there are plenty of arguments as to who this chef was. Regardless of the identity, though, it is the trend that the chef started that is being discussed today. Coming back to the reason why avocado was used instead of the fatty fish part, the reason most commonly accepted is due to a shortage.

Fresh fish was not exactly consumed raw back in those days and so, it was difficult to get specialty cuts that sushi chefs wanted. As a result, there were often shortages. To offset this issue, many Japanese chefs would often have to improvise and one of the results of this is the use of avocado.

Now, it’s worth pointing out that this creamy, green fruit was already popular in the west. It was used in many dishes and the fact that it was added to sushi is thought of to have helped propel it’s the dish’s rice to fame. When the California roll was introduced, the place of sushi was cemented in western dining preferences.

Naturally, the taste of toro and the taste of avocado are not entirely the same. However, they do have similarities in terms of mouthfeel and even the flavor. Of course, avocado can have that bitter aftertaste, but this can be hidden by all the other ingredients served alongside the fruit.

These days, the popularity of avocado has only soared even higher thanks to the emergence of a new trend in healthy eating, in which the food item is highly sought after. Such favored dishes as the avocado toast have caught on among health-conscious diners, and the fruit has been added in many more commercial items.

Due to this, the presence of avocado in western sushi dining is unlikely to go away any time soon. However, it is unlikely to ever catch on in Japan. This is due to the fact that the fruit is not native in the country and is not something that can be easily or cheaply obtained.

Fruits are already quite expensive in Japan, even those that were grown in the country itself. Naturally, not everyone will be able to afford items that have had to be imported from other countries. This is why even though there have been a few sushi bars that have begun incorporating avocado into their rolls, the trend has yet to spread.

Considering just how rigid the traditions in Japan can be, it might take a very long time before avocado becomes a mainstream item in the nation.

Using Avocado in Sushi

Despite the fact that it is not a traditional ingredient used for making sushi in Japan, including avocado in making the dish actually does come with a lot of advantages. These are among the biggest reasons why the fruit has caught on in the west as well as it did. In fact, it’s a fair bet that if avocado was easier to get ahold of in Japan and isn’t as expensive as it is, it would be a lot more popular in the country.

So, why exactly is using avocado in sushi a good thing? For starters, avocado is incredibly healthy for you. It contains essential nutrients and healthy fats that are not only good for your digestion but are also excellent for your heart. Paired with all of the wonderful benefits of everything else that sushi offers, then you have another gigantic reason for enjoying the dish.

Another reason why avocado is excellent for sushi is the texture. When used during its peak ripeness, this fruit is incredibly creamy without being mushy. This is why it was used as a substitute to toro, in the first place, but without the fishy taste. Since you can’t pair toro with another fish part without becoming redundant, avocado is then the perfect choice.

There is also the fact that avocado comes with almost a neutral taste, which allows the other ingredients to shine. It doesn’t overpower the fresh fish and vegetables, and still allows the rice and the nori to stand out. The smell is also quite mild but is still noticeable once you place a piece in your mouth, which only enhances the experience.

Finally, there is the fact that it adds a bright, alluring color to the rolls that make the sushi pop even more for the best eye-catching effect. Remember that in sushi, the first sense to appreciate it is your sense of sight. Seeing that bombastic green being surrounding by pink, black, white, and red can be the perfect combination to just set your imagination going wild.

This is the whole point of making food with color, in mind. Psychology plays a major role in the appreciation of anything and if all you get is a white or gray sludge, you aren’t likely to feel enthusiastic about eating it. In comparison, when you find contrasting colors in a dish, you immediately feel the need to want to try it out.

Few other ingredients have the same power to make green stand out like avocado could while also complementing the flavors and textures. It is the perfect partner for all of these reasons, which is why it is such a waste that it isn’t being used to its full effect in Japan. In the US and other western countries, though, this trend is likely here to stay.

Related Questions

Is Avocado in Sushi an American Thing?

It depends on what you mean. While the use of avocado in sushi was pioneered by a Japanese chef, it was done in the US. What’s more, the use of avocado is more popular in the US than it is in Japan, so one could certainly argue that it is, indeed, an American thing.

Does Avocado in Sushi Taste Good?

While avocado itself does not taste particularly good, it can be an excellent partner to other items that have a stronger, more distinct taste and texture. This is due to the creamy taste and texture of the fruit, which allows for better appreciation of what the other ingredients offer.

Why Avocado Sushi is Rare in Japan

Avocado has become a lot more widely available in Japan, but compared to other countries where the fruit is locally grown, the prices have certainly gone up. In fact, it wouldn’t be odd to pay $1 for each piece of the fruit now, which is not overly pricey but is not cheap either.

Among the most popular uses for the green wonder are smoothies, which the younger Japanese consumers are going nuts over. The green color, the mild aroma, and the creamy, bitter, and sweet taste is simply intoxicating. In short, avocado has no shortage of fans in this eastern country depending on the forms that it takes.

In the case of sushi, however, things are a little dicier. The old guard is a bit more stubborn about incorporating the ingredient into their dish, which is steeped in tradition. There are also those who believe that there are better ingredients found locally in comparison.

There have already been some younger chefs who are offering the product in their sushi dishes, with the feedback being a bit mixed. The more elitist sushi enthusiasts who have a more puritan view with regards to food are expressing horror at the prospect. Meanwhile, the younger crowd is a little more supportive of the experiment.

As things stand, it would be unreasonable to think that avocado will catch on as quickly in Japan as it did in the US with regards to sushi. Consumers in the country have certainly made concessions with regards to other ingredients, for sure, including spam and other preserved food. However, it might take a while for this to happen with the green fruit.

Avocado Sushi Alternatives

For a lot of sushi enthusiasts, there is nothing like the creamy, addictive sensation that avocado brings to the table when eating sushi. However, it isn’t always possible to get ahold of sushi, especially during the offseason. Even when you do manage to obtain some, they might be in rather poor conditions, making them unsuitable for making sushi.

As such, you might have to look for alternatives that will help you enjoy sushi in a similar fashion. To help you with that, here are a few suggestions that you might want to consider if you are looking to replace avocado:

·         Cream cheese

·         Ricotta cheese

·         Hummus

·         Banana

One of the biggest reasons why avocado is so popular as an ingredient in making sushi is the creamy texture of this wonderful item. As such, if you don’t have it on hand, the next logical thing to do is to find alternatives that possess similar qualities. At the top of the list is cream cheese with a mild flavor.

You can find brands that offer less sharpness with regards to the taste and will be less overpowering in terms of the other ingredients. It isn’t exactly ideal, but it works.

Next is another cheese type called ricotta cheese. It offers similar creaminess to that of cream cheese, but it does come with a few lumps. What’s more, depending on how it was made, it could be too sour or too salty. So choose accordingly.

Hummus is made by mashing chickpeas and adding some oils. The best way to make use of this is by processing the little cooked balls with a blender and adding as little oils as possible. After that, you squeeze the moisture out of it via cheesecloth. Doing this will make the resulting hummus easier to work with.

Finally, there is the banana, which shares similar textures like that of avocado. Although this tropical fruit does come with a stronger flavor and aroma, it still provides that level of creaminess that you are looking for. The best thing about banana is that it is available all year round

It is worth pointing out that banana can also come with the same speed in spoilage as that of avocado. So, if you wait too long before using it, you might end up with a bruised mess that smells even stronger than before. This would only ruin your sushi experience.  

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